If you've been watching the Red Sox carefully, you've noticed an interesting trend over the past few seasons. The Sox have seen a rebirth in an area that historically has never been their strong suit: speed.
Believe it. The Red Sox of old were known for the solid, conservative, traditional American League approach — walks, doubles and three-run homers ruled the day. But no more. Over the past six seasons, you can't deny the steady trend — the team has ranked 11th, 13th, 14th, seventh, third and now fifth in the American League in stolen bases.
Obviously the man at the forefront is Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole 50 bags one year and 70 the next, shattering the team's single-season record at age 25. But the Red Sox have also quietly gotten 20 steals a year out of Dustin Pedroia, and they shrewdly added speed at the 2008 trading deadline by swapping Manny Ramirez for a younger, quicker Jason Bay.
And if the Sox really want to go all-out with the running game in 2010, there is a way.
His name is Chone Figgins.
It would be a bold move for a Red Sox team that's never gone after players like Figgins in the past. But imagine a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the Boston order of Ellsbury, Figgins and Pedroia, followed by the power bats of Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis. It'd be tough to say no.
Figgins is a free agent this winter for the first time in his career, having finished his six full seasons of major league service time with the Angels. He re-signed with the team last January for just under $6 million, avoiding arbitration, but this offseason, he hits the open market for real.
Figgins has a lot to offer the Red Sox, aside from his bravado on the base paths (265 steals in the last six years). He's a premium defensive player at several positions, and his .395 on-base percentage in 2009 makes him look like a promising No. 2 hitter for the Red Sox.
Whether or not he's a realistic fit for the Sox will depend primarily on money. Figgins is old for a first-time free agent — he'll be 32 when he reports to spring training next February, which is past the age where his earning potential hits its peak. He won't be in the limelight this winter — the nine-figure offers will be reserved for Matt Holliday and John Lackey, not for Figgins.
According to a report Tuesday in the Sporting News which discussed the Phillies' interest in Figgins, the infielder's initial demand is a five-year, $50 million contract. But we'll see how long that lasts.
There's a lot going against Figgins in his quest to earn that asking price. Money is tight these days, and teams are looking to make more fiscally safe moves than ever before. Figgins is far from a sure thing, as far as $50 million investments go — he's getting on in years, and speedy infielders aren't exactly the type of players that age well. There are a handful of players on this year's market that appear at first glance to be more reasonable investments.
But the upside with Figgins is tempting. The sky's the limit — with a trio of .300 hitters at the top of their order all wreaking havoc on the bases, the Red Sox would add a whole new dimension to their offense.